Posts Tagged ‘lighting’

A Modern Day Swords into Plowshares

January 29, 2014

How do you turn a nuclear warhead into a source of power that lights your living room? The answer came from Dr.  Thomas L. Neff who conceived of, and carried out, the atomic recycling program called Megatons to Megawatts. You can read more about Dr. Neff in this The New York Times article.  It’s quite poetic if you ask me, cold war era weapons meant to destroy our American cities if need be, in the end powering them. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I love hearing stories of triumph and ingenuity, embracing adversity and making the best of it.   The “sword” of nuclear warheads being repurposed into “plowshares” we could harvest light heat and cooling from in our homes, should inspire all of us. While we don’t often encounter “swords” like this in our daily energy life, we do have the opportunity to make a change.  Reduce. From the same NYT article Dr. Neff was quoted, “The lesson of the story, he remarked in an interview, is that ‘private citizens can actually do something’”.  You can too, right at home.

Reducing the need for any energy source by creating a home that is energy efficient does a few things.  It creates more affordable energy bills, makes you more comfortable and it allows our limited resources to last that much longer. The Megatons to Megawatts program expired in 2013, although there are other programs on a smaller scale in the works.  We can run out of warheads, oil, gas, coal, or any other non-renewable resource. Do something at home, we can help.




Picture from:

Energy Efficient Candles?

December 23, 2013

In the rapid fire rush of holidays this time of year, we often forget to pay attention to some of the smaller details.  Like how dark it’s getting!  When the days are shorter we tend to turn on the lights sooner.  It’s no wonder a number of holidays this time of year are focused on lights!


Since I’ve recently weathered an ice storm and power outages here in the Northeast, this thought is fresh in my mind:  one candle may produce tens or a maybe hundreds of Btu’s of energy depending on its size and wax make up.  But what does this little light and the few Btu’s produced mean?

An average household in the U.S. uses 90 million Btu’s for lighting, heating and cooling.  During this time of year a lot of this is lighting!  Think of all those tens or hundreds of Btu’s you use in your home no matter what the “candle” really is!

While I’m not sure there is a more energy efficient candle, (makes me think of a more efficient Flintstone’s car), we can change light bulbs and strings of lights that offer safety and savings all in one.  This is a festive time of year, turn on the lights, keep yourself warm and give yourself the gift of energy efficient “candles” whatever they may really be.

Happy Holidays from all of us at GreenHomes America!


Image from:

Lights! Home! Action!

December 17, 2013

light tree

The days are shorter, it’s darker, and what kind of season would it be without lights!  Here are some tips from us at GreenHomes America to make your season a bright and efficient one!

  • Switch to smaller and newer lights, consider LED lighting in particular.  There are significant savings with this newer lighting technology.  If you must have the big bulbs, switching to a smaller wattage may help (this works with all the lighting in your home).
  • Use a timer! It is good to turn off the lights when you don’t need them and much easier if you set them up on a timer.
  • Make sure lights have a (UL) label which means they Underwriters Laboratory safety requirements. (we follow BPI requirements for your home)
  • Use the right set for indoor and outdoor use.
  • Safety Check! Just like we perform on your home! New or old check all light sets for frayed wires, damaged sockets, or cracked insulation. If you find any defects, replace the entire set (if we find defects in your home we can fix them, you don’t have to throw it away).
  • All outdoor cords, plugs and sockets must be weatherproof. Keep electrical connections off the ground, and make sure wiring is kept clear of drainpipes and railings to prevent any risk of shock.  Water can cause all sorts of problems and not just with electricity.
  • Don’t overload your electrical circuits. Circuits in older homes carry a maximum of 1800 watts each. Most newer homes can handle 2400 watts each. While our friends over at CurrentSafe can speak to this, be safe!



Can the LED Mean no More Excuses?

June 14, 2013

We have written about LED lighting in the past, and there are lots of good reasons to consider it in your home.  The recessed lighting options out there can help with energy savings as well as tackling a troublesome air sealing dilemma.

P1050845 P1050846P1050874 P1050856

But the big hurdle for me is the light bulb. We use them everywhere in our homes and in places where we really need them like to read or get down the stairs.  There have a number of bulbs making their way to market, and one of them is CREE.


It did cost me $12, but my biggest complaint is that I may have to keep the receipt for 10 years if it fails under warranty.  If it only lasts 10 years, it will have been a $1.20 a year investment and I expect to spend that much a year to keep it on about 6 hours a day since it uses only 9.5 watts produces 800 lumens.  An incandescent might cost $8 a year to burn the same hours and it sure won’t last 10 years.

What does it look like though, since nostalgia and good looks matter and have kept some of us from changing standard light bulbs to compact fluorescents.    Go figure, I think it looks like a light bulb.  I’m running out of excuses. Even with antique fixtures, something crying for an old Edison bulb I think it looks pretty good.




In home electric monitoring, Real Time Data and Age Old Adages

May 24, 2012

By U.S. Air Force photo by Edward Aspera Jr. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

NYT reported last month that although there are some early adopters of monitors of electric use in our homes, it is predicted that more than half will have them in the next ten years.    Notable in the Times article is a quote from Dan Yates, CEO of Opower: “Simply making energy usage visible can have an impact”.   I can believe that; after all, “knowledge is power”, right?

Blending physics, and metaphor, with this age old adage (I can’t resist throwing in some physics), power implies transformation.  It is a function of using energy to do work.  My point is that energy monitors aren’t worth squat unless we change our behavior based on what they tell us.  In fact, since you plug them in, they use electricity, they don’t save it.

Local utilities are offering energy data with things like the green button which we’ve written about in the past. Changing light bulbs to CFLs or LEDs can make a big impact with electric loads.  When you use electricity—for A/C or to heat water for example—more efficient systems can make a difference; and so can improving the home in other ways.   The gains in insulating and air sealing, proper shading, and good windows can really make an impact on your energy usage as well as your comfort.

I wonder if the adage “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” is relevant?  Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to keep an eye on your electrical usage, but don’t get caught watching and not acting. Or maybe, “a fool and his money will soon part” fits too.



Lights, Vampires and Holiday Wishes!

December 6, 2011


nbc chicago image

Maybe you’ve seen this already, its’ been floating around the web, but I Love this picture.  Some of us go for broke when it comes to holiday decoration.  I’m only lightly (sorry) using the metaphor “going for broke”.

We celebrate this time of year as the skies grow darker earlier and the season shortens for cultural and religious reasons and just plain fun.    I’m more in the Ditto camp, but we do have a Christmas tree.     

Out of curiosity I used a nifty device called a Kill-A-Watt, and I metered my own Christmas tree at home.  We like the old school lights, the big bulbs and the bubbling ones. One year we left a strip plugged in lying on the couch and burned a hole in it.       

Well, my little tree with a few strips of lights big and small draws about 320watts.  I have an electric tea kettle that boils water with less wattage.  I can make coffee with that.   A co-worker’s tree with LED lights draws about 20watts. 

I’m probably not going to change. I like the light from the tree.  It makes me happy.   I suppose although it’s not efficient, it helps heat my house. (Yes, heating my house in Maine with light bulbs is not necessarily the smartest economic move I’ve made!)

Question I have now is “how about all the other things with clocks and lights, plugged in but not doing anything.”  Mike has mentioned “smart” power strips in the past.  This might be a good stocking stuffer for some (well if you have a big stocking I suppose).  Our TV’s and their electronic entourage, sit around waiting to entertain drawing power with their clocks lights and standby modes.  Set top boxes and DVR’s  can have a huge draw and can be worse than a good refrigerator!       

We make choices with our home and what we do to run the things in them, and it’s good to make informed ones.   Using energy costs money.  Wasting energy costs even more. Maybe the “Ditto” family has some extra cash for the presents under the tree instead, or a week in the Bahamas.  What would you do with the money you’re wasting needlessly on phantom loads?  Oh, don’t forget:  air leaks, spotty insulation, old inefficient heating equipment, leaky ductwork….What does your holiday wish list look like?



The Ancestors

October 7, 2011

Old light - New light

True to form as an American, my family is a hodge-podge of ancestry new and old,  New Englanders that were Mayflower descendants, mid-western farmers who were horse thieves or ministers, to immigrants here for just a few generations scraping by working in mills.    I don’t think they ever made it to America, or if they did the left, but somewhere on my wife’s side of the family tree are Vikings.  I imagine they were probably good at plundering, lighting their way with a good oil soaked torch.  It’s good to know where you come from.

In the lighting family tree, the baby of the bunch is the LED light attempting to unseat the CFL as the next best thing.  I’ve mentioned some innovations with LED’s recently, Mike’s talked about Cree lighting  and we know it’s important to conserve with lighting as well. But If I had to ask any of those family members from long ago if they would rather spend $1 or say $30 on a light bulb (accounting for inflation and converting it to the currency that makes sense, say Viking Pennigars) I can guess the response.

Over generations things change, for one thing, humans now tend to live past thirty. Light bulbs last a lot longer too, especially LED’s.   That sure is a bonus when the fixture is way up there, and requires a ladder, maybe a really long ladder!    As I think about the benefits of LED lighting, I thought it would be good to find out where it came from and how it works compared to other types of bulbs.  

LED stands for Light Emitting Diode, a diode being a thing that electric current flows through.  Electrons flow, photons are emitted i.e. light. They are small and efficient but expensive.  

Most are familiar with Compact Fluorescent Lighting, a CFL has a phosphorus coating on the tube that lights up when the argon and mercury vapors inside get charged with electricity. 

The old fashioned incandescent bulb is essentially a heating element surrounded by gas which produces light.  In fact an incandescent bulb 90% of its energy is emitted as heat rather than light, not very efficient for lighting but great for heating except that for most electric heating is not very cost effective.

GE invented the first practical LED in 1962 those of a certain age will recognize them as the vibrant red of clock radios watches and pocket calculators (these things now come in smart phones almost exclusively, but that little flashing green light telling you there is a message is also a LED) They’ve gotten better since then.

So what’s good about a LED lightbulb?  Longevity:  some last 35,000 – 50,000 hours better than a CFL’s 7,000-10,000 hours or an incandescent’s 1000 hours or so.   Very inexpensive runtimes, a draw of 10w or so, a variety of color, blending different colors manufacturers can get a light that pleases the eye.  Unlike CFL’s it’s not recommended that you evacuate the room when they break, and LED’s are dimmable.  Next week I will talk about a few LED’s on the market now as well as some coming out by the end of the year that promise to be even better.  Much better than whale oil lamps and torches, that’s for sure.  My apologies to any relatives still using those, but there is a better way.



image of Match and LED’s from Wikicommons

The Incandescent Lighting Meltdown

May 7, 2011

You know I’m a fan of the CREE CR6 LED light.  Mostly because it performs great.  And partly because it’s energy efficient.

Standard incandescent lights waste about 90% of their energy use on producing heat instead of light.  Think about that in the hot summer months every time you turn a light on!

Well, the folks at CREE found a good way to demonstrate this using the Easter Bunny.

Think about that as we head into the summer cooling season.  You pay to waste electricity on inefficient lighting.  And then you either sweat or pay again to remove the extra heat with your air-conditioner.  A double whammy.

More commentary on the CREE CR6

January 1, 2011

I received a comment on yesterday’s post about the CREE CR6.  Rather than leave the comment and the response buried in a comment section, I’ll pull this out into a front-page continuation of yesterday’s post.

David B. wrote:

Mike, not to be a spoil-sport, but I don’t think a $50 light bulb is worth getting excited about. First, LED’s don’t use dramatically less energy than a CFL (the $200 savings is compared to an incandescent). Second, if a product can’t pay for itself in a couple of years, most people aren’t going to bother.  Finally, the 35,000 hour life expectancy is a bit misleading. That works out to more than 20 years at 4 hrs a day (someone energy conscious enough to spend $50 for a bulb is probably obsessive about turning off lights that are not being used presently).

While LED’s offer some aesthetic and performance advantages over CFL’s, the price probably needs to drop below $10 before they make any sense.

Hi David,

The right LED lighting makes a lot of sense right now!  And I’m going to get excited anyway!   On a New Year’s morning, here’s a thumbnail version of the reason why.

I like the non-energy performance and appearance of the CR6 and LR6 better than the incandescent they replace.  And some people like “better” over “cheaper”.   When “better” is cheaper than “cheaper” that’s even better!  (Whew—try saying that fast five times.)  And over the life cycle, these certainly are less expensive.

I disagree with your statement that “if a product can’t pay for itself in a couple of years, most people aren’t going to bother”.  That is a common fallacy in the energy-efficiency world, and it ignores the real reasons that most of our customers pursue energy-efficiency, namely for comfort, health & safety, durability of the home, and even aesthetics!  Energy-efficiency is often a nice way to pay for these benefits for many people.  And examples of this abound.  Windows is one—and we see payback on windows stretching to 40 years-plus in some cases.  [By the way, this doesn’t mean we don’t educate people about the low-hanging fruit of air-sealing, insulation, duct-sealing, etc.  We install more of those services than windows.]   What’s the payback on a granite countertop?  A sofa?  An Xbox?  A trip to the Grand Canyon?  What’s the payback on making your daughter’s bedroom more comfortable all summer or winter? 

As I’m sure you’re aware, many people don’t like and won’t use CFLs.  And even though I used them in recessed light applications, the quality was inferior than incandescents in characteristics including light quality, color rendition, and dimmability.  And that means that the stuck with incandescents.  I’ve noted this in the California market, for example.  In these cooling climates—and high electricity rate markets—in particular this is a shame.  Not only are people forgoing the savings on the lighting side, but the inefficient lighting is dumping heat into the space that they there pay to remove with air-conditioning.  A double whammy.  Having a product that people are willing to use is a game changer.

In new construction applications, or retrofit applications where trims are being installed (or replaced) anyway, the cost is the CR6/LR6 is actually overstated by about $10—because it includes an integrated trim already.  Plus, installation is quicker than with a two-step trim-lamp-process.  Not much, but minutes add up.

In some high-bay applications with 9-, 10-, or higher ceilings, a 35,000 hour life (or a 50,000 hour life in the case of the LR6) is a huge deal.  Some people have to pay a professional to change their lamps—and avoiding this covers the cost of the LEDs even without the energy savings!   This is certainly true in commercial situations as well.  You may be handy and not afraid of heights or ladders (and have the appropriate ladder), but for some people this is a very important factor.

I’ll note that it took me three tries to find these at the Home Depot in NY—because they’d already sold out at the first two and they were waiting on the next shipment.  So some people are recognizing the value already. 

These already make sense.  We don’t need the price to change a penny for that to be true.  I do agree that they won’t have broad market appeal at that price point yet.  I’ll expect the prices to drop steadily in the coming years.  They have already dropped over the last 18 months.   But people can feel good about starting savings today.

Happy New Year!

CREE CR6 is on the streets–and it looks like a winner!

December 19, 2010

[Note–see longer review posted on Dec 31, 2010.]

I finally got my hands on a the LED CREE CR6 for recessed lighting applications and gave it a quick test run.  It looks and works great.  I’ll post a more complete review soon, with pictures.  Meanwhile, I’m giving it a big thumbs up.  It and the CREE LR6 stand at the top of the heap, with HALO’s LED fixture not far behind (and ahead in a few applications).  Here’s a product that in many respects beats all comers in its class–incandescent, halogen, and flourescent (and other LED) lighting.


%d bloggers like this: